BANGALORE: Hans Raj Bhardwaj is in Raj Bhavan and all’s not well with the BJP government in Karnataka. Bhardwaj’s move to reject the D V Sadananada Gowda Cabinet’s choice of former Kerala High Court Chief Justice S R Bannurmath as Lokayukta is only the latest in an endless series of quarrels between the governor and the government.
Bhardwaj’s crusading ride is a rough journey. Explaining his rejection of Bannurmath, he said: “It is not because Bannurmath is alleged to be linked to a land scam, but because his name is being pushed in order to put the Lokayukta’s illegal mining report into cold storage.” Bhardwaj was indirectly targeting former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa who is alleged to be part of the illegal mining scam. Yeddyurappa on his part exposed the governor’s double-standard: as Union law minister, Bhardwaj had recommended Justice Bannurmath for Chief Justice of the Kerala High Court.
And Bhardwaj is eating his cake too. Last heard, he was blaming the government for delaying the appointment of the Karnataka Lokayukta. He said, “Let the government recommend any other name, I will clear with in 15 minutes. But not Bannurmath.” Chief Minister D V Sadananda Gowda has stuck to his guns by saying that there is no change in the government’s stance and the governor will have to abide by the collective decision of the Cabinet.
It’s been three years since Bhardwaj took over as the governor, and the BJP continues to await a miracle that would change the resident of Raj Bhavan. A story often told in Karnataka nowadays is about how senior Congress leaders had responded to the news of Bhardwaj’s gubernatorial appointment by telling their BJP counterparts about their joy at Bhardwaj’s exit from the Centre; the BJP leaders had jokingly retorted that they had taken on a “headache”.
State BJP president K S Eshwarappa is of the view that ever since Bhardwaj took over as the constitutional head of the state, he hasn’t been a friend, philosopher and guide of the government, but its principal adversary, more than the two Opposition parties in the Assembly. “With two Opposition parties, Congress and JD (S) having failed to act as an effective Opposition, that vacant slot is successfully and effectively filled by Bhardwaj. Every word and deed of Bhardwaj indicates that he has an axe to grind against the BJP. It looks like that it was a crime for the BJP to come to power,” Eshwarappa told The Sunday Standard.
Eshwarappa may have an axe of his own to grind but the smoke in Karnataka does have a fire. Bhardwaj’s first public statement immediately after he was sworn in as the governor was a firm indication of what was to come. He said, “I cannot tolerate and sit silent if anything happens to secularism. I have fought my entire life for the cause of secularism.” No one was left in doubt about who Bhardwaj was referring to–the BJP government which had just then come to power with B S Yeddyurappa at the helm. “Has our government done anything that would damage secularism? Where is the need and what was the motive of making this statement?” the then home minister Dr V S Acharya had told a few party MLAs and officers, without making it public, as taking on the governor would have amounted to constitutional impropriety.
Indeed, Bhardwaj wears his constitutional immunity like a suit of armour. According to the BJP, among the other “motivated” actions of Bhardwaj is his refusal to give assent to the Cow Slaughter (Prevention) Bill and Akrama-Sakrama (regularisation of houses in revenue pockets) passed unanimously by the state legislature.
“By refusing to give assent to the Cow Slaughter (Prevention) Bill, Bhardwaj has proved that he has not risen above party lines as opposition to the bill was in perfect tune with the Congress’ line of thinking guided by appeasement of Muslim minorities. The approval of Akrama-Sakrama Bill would have been a popular move of the BJP government as thousands of people would have been benefitted. There is a motive behind these two moves,” said Eshwarappa.
Motive or not, the friction between the state government and its constitutional head remains business as usual in saffron Karnataka.